On April 7th, 2018, I heard my house phone ringing in my room. I remember being surprised that the house phone was in bed with me — it’s barely ever in my room.
On the other end, I heard panting, fear, and the sound of my aunt’s voice. “Papá se puso malo, Esthefany. Dile a Tita, Esthefany. Papá se puso malo.” It was the call I was fearing all week as I waited to find out if my grandfather would be given the healthy okay to go home.
As the calming force in my family, I tried to help my aunt catch her breath. “Tia, espera. Respira! Como el está?” My aunt disregarded my attempts to help her process what was happening, or articulate more information beyond that my grandfather’s condition worsened.
“El no está bien. I’m taking a cab to the hospital now.” She hung up. The sounds of empty static filled my ear. My hands were shaking. I remember thinking to myself, how do I wake my mom up from her sleep and tell her that her dad is dying?
Everything thereafter happened so fast: the Uber that waited for us outside, the anxiety of Tia Maya who was not answering her phone, the wait outside of the intensive care unit, the tears, the anger, the small seizures that followed brain damage, our heartbreak when we explained to my cousin with schizophrenia that there was no longer any hope, when we turned off the life support, the prayers, the phone calls, the multiple pairs of red swollen eyes, the yelling in denial, and lastly the funeral arrangements.
My grandfather’s death was my first taste of eternal loss — the kind that can’t be reconciled with apologies, space, nor time. Prior to passing away my grandfather signed papers against being kept alive by machines. Therefore, although we wanted nothing more than for his body to keep fighting to find a sign of breath on its own, instead we had to argue with doctors against trying to save him. His machines were turned off, funeral arrangements were made, flights to the Dominican Republic were booked, and nine days of traditional Catholic prayers later, we finally put his body to rest.
Though this experience was one of the most trying I’ve faced, I also learned so much about the important yet unpredictable process of grieving, and how to deal with grief in gentler ways.
The Five Stages of Grief
Post burying one of the most influential people in my life, I realized I needed to visit my therapist. I tried as much as possible to not process my grandpa’s death, but ten million annoying questions later there I was, crying in her office, mad at him for wanting to be taken off life support without giving us a say. I thought he was selfish and I felt so much hatred for him. The feeling passed after a few days. It was replaced with sadness and an overflow of tears as I come across some of his belongings while rearranging my room.
From these therapy sessions, I learned that anger is one of the five stages of grief, in partnership with denial, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The phases aren’t linear; we tend to move in between stages before achieving acceptance and this can happen literally at any time throughout your days while you’re grieving. There have been multiple times where I’m going about my day and a wave of anger or denial has come over me. Yet, prior to seeing my therapist, I was subconsciously suppressing feelings as a coping mechanism. In fact, I glazed over the details when filling her in and tried to divert the conversation. The Five Stages of Grief have taught me that such moments are normal. I’ve learned its okay to let those moment take over me. Since seeing my therapist, I have stopped fighting my emotions regarding his death. It’s been healing to see this process through.
Surrender… Time Heals All
Surrendering to grief has greatly helped my healing. It’s been my way of making peace with reality. I have been able to surrender easier after knowing that there is such a thing as a process to grieving and that I’m not weird for the bursts of unreplicable emotions. In surrendering, I’ve given my healing up to time. I’m in no rush of “feeling better.” I have respected my creative blocks, random outburst of rage at God, and the million times I have felt like rearranging my room when the anxious feeling of loss gets too strong. I’m flowing through this time.
I Am Not Alone
I’ve found comfort in knowing I am not the first to experience eternal loss nor will I ever be the last. I’m not alone in experiencing this process that is larger than me. I’m reminded of this whenever I reach out to friends who have also lost loved ones. It has helped me to process my confusion and emotions with others who have experienced the same thing.
For example, for some time, I struggled to visit my grandfather’s house. To my surprise, my best friend has yet to set foot in her late grandmother’s apartment despite it being years. When she shared this with me, it became easier for me to replace the guilt I felt for missing out on family time with self-acceptance of my decision to stay home.
I vowed to myself to continue to take care of myself and accept every point of grief until I am fully healed. At times this means not going to the monthly masses, or not being with family at his house because the emotions I feel are too strong.
While grieving, I have tried my best to keep in mind that although everyone grieves, we all do so in own own unique ways. Your self-care and healing might look different from your friends or others in your family and that is okay. Everyone grieves, heals, and likes to remember their loved ones differently.
Grieving is healthy because it allows us to form a new way of relating to our loved ones after they have passed. If we continue to think about them and grieve their presence, then it keeps the thought of that person active in our perception. This is safe to do on your own if you do not wish to seek counseling. In “Is ‘grief counseling’ helpful or harmful to the bereaved? Psychology Today states, “people have a tendency to improve in their adaptation to the loss without any professional assistance.” However, 10-15% of people who have lost loved one do experience suffering so intense and for so long that they develop psychological and physical debilitation. In which case, one should seek help.
The last time I wrote something for myself was while my grandfather was in the hospital. It took me four months before I was able to write for myself again. I was only able to do so after finally making peace with the fact that he is gone. I know that I am in a better place because I’m writing again. I’m grateful for these moments of tranquility and creativity.
I hope you’ve found solace through these words, and in your grieving.